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What's Cook(book)ing

After non-fiction and reference books last week, we're on to cookbooks that could make fine gifts for the chow hounds on your list. Following are recommendations for books that have inspired my own cooking over the past year; they're not necessarily books new to the marketplace.

Quick Pickles: Easy Recipes With Big Flavor (Chronicle Books, $18.95) is far and away my most darling cookbook acquisition of the year. My obsession with all things pickled runs back to the watermelon rinds my grandmother always had on hand, but until this book I never realized I could get away with pickling without canning. From Fresh Dill Cucumber Pickles to Oil-Pickled Mangoes with Horseradish and Chile Peppers Three Ways, every recipe can be prepared within a couple of hours and refrigerated in your vessel of choice.

There's a recipe for Ginger Pickled Vegetables in Staff Meals From Chantrelle (Workman, $29.95) that I also covet, but quality comfort food is the selling point for this book. Based upon the New York restaurant's daily employee meal, Staff Meals covers fried chicken, Sloppy Joes and Italian meatballs in easy language that made me want to cook as much as it made me want to eat. Like any fine, New York chef, David Waltuck slips in recipes for braised rabbit and roast monkfish, foods the average American doesn't eat out much less in. Those, however, are tempered by many simpler ones that, in my experience, actually work.

I often refer to Roy F. Guste's Gulf Coast Fish (W.W. Norton & Company, $35), more for the gorgeous watercolors and encyclopedic information about each fish than to cook. More recently, I picked up Guste's The Bean Book (W.W. Norton & Co., $30), which contains equally good-looking illustrations and exhaustive research on a completely different topic. From simple red beans to Turkish White Haricot Salad, each recipe includes nutritional information and lighter preparation possibilities. The former proprietor of Antoine's, Guste has written a slew of cookbooks besides these.

Two cookbooks that cover the basics of cuisine people on your gift list might like to explore but have had limited experience cooking are Madhur Jaffrey's An Invitation to Indian Cooking (Vintage Books, $13 paperback) and Sara Kasden's Love and Knishes (Alexander Books, $14.95 paperback). Jaffrey's recipe for Plain Basmati Rice is so simple I almost blush following it, but it makes the most beautiful rice my kitchen has seen. Her more complex recipes cover lamb chops to chutneys. Kasden's kosher recipes are so basic that three sometimes fit on one page. In no time you'll learn the mystique behind knishes and the author's secret to borscht: something called Russel. -- Roahen

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